Saturday, September 19, 2009

Writers at Soapstone: Cecelia Hagen

Cecelia Hagen was in residence at Soapstone for two weeks in October 2006. She wrote to us afterwards:

“I had planned on working with Ovid’s Metamorphoses during my stay, but as I read and researched other, less well-known works of his, I became more drawn to his Tristia and Letters from Exile. Being able to read for long stretches allowed me to be completely charmed by Ovid, and to immerse myself in his plight as a political exile on the Black Sea. The transformations described in the Metamorphoses are so often imposed from without--a god changes a girl into a tree or a swan in response to her request for help in escaping an attacker. Ovid was the first to write these stories down, but they weren't his. Many writers since Ovid have based works on his tales, and I had thought I would add my versions to the mix, but that task seemed less appealing the more I learned about Ovid's other works.

“His Letters from Exile sprang from his fervent desire to return to Rome, and he used all his rhetorical skill to convince his readers to do what they could to get the Emperor Augustus to reverse his sentence. Although this may sound like tedious reading, it's not at all, because it's done from the heart, and with consummate skill. I loved every page and was inspired to see how his plight, and his irascible wit, could seem so fresh even after two thousand years. This inspired me to open my heart and speak from there, rather than trying to impose any kind of outside change or template on my writing. My writing process often follows this circuitous path: I have something to say but start by backing away from it, looking for a handle that will allow me to pick up my subject without getting burned. But eventually I realize that I have to hold it in my hand, I have to seize it and get burned if I want the reader to feel what I'm feeling. The gracious shelter of Soapstone and the sense I had of the guiding presence of previous tenants of Wind studio made it possible for me to find my way into what I wanted to say.

“My new chapbook, Among Others, was conceived in the solitude of Soapstone. Most of the poems are persona poems, spoken by a character I conjure up. These characters are always like me in that they are outsiders, observers of their situation. I can enlarge my perceptions through these characters, can enter the depths of their experiences in an almost extrasensory way. I felt a great sense of permission to experiment at Soapstone, to play and explore all the sides of myself, to hear these other voices and get them on the page.”

Cecelia Hagen's chapbook, Fringe Living, was published by 26 Books; Among Others will be released by Traprock Books in 2010. She was the Fiction Editor for the Northwest Review for many years. Her work has been published in The Seattle Review, Prairie Schooner, Pedestal, Caffeine Destiny, Puerto del Sol, Burnside Review, and in the book, From Where We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poets. In 2007 she won first place in Passager magazine's annual competition (as a result of discovering Passager on the bookshelves at Soapstone).